Keeping Travel Memories Alive

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How is it that travel memories often seem like a distant memory as soon as I walk in the door after a vacation?  The therapeutic relaxing feeling seems to almost instantly disappear as reality slaps me in the face. 

A pile of mail, mostly bills, a dusty house that needs to be cleaned, and over a hundred emails that have piled up in my In-Box.  Was it really just a couple of days ago that I was getting a massage on the beach under a palm tree?  To feel like I’m on permanent vacation, I’ve incorporated my favorite travel memories into my home. I found that it helps keep them alive years after the vacation is over.

travel memories monkeys
My most prized travel possession,  a 130cm painting of 3 Capuchins that looks more like a photograph than a painting and keeps travel memories from Costa Rica alive.

Artwork Is Great To Bring Home

One of my favorite ways to keep travel memories alive is to collect artwork from the various countries I’ve visited.   I saw the monkey painting on my first day in Costa Rica. I saw it from across the street, through a window and knew I had to have it.  A few years earlier I was primed to start a Masters in Primatology (the study of monkeys) studying Capuchins in Costa Rica. 

The plan didn’t pan out for a variety of reasons, but my love for primates remains alive and well.   Surely I was meant to have this painting!  As I entered the store and saw an absence of price tags, my heart began to sink. Artwork with no price tags is almost always a sign that it’s expensive.  Dry-mouthed with anticipation I asked the art dealer the price and swallowed when she told me. 

I walked away empty-handed, sullen.  The next ten days were spent diving with sharks on Cocos, where I met J.P.  I thought of the painting every day. He insisted as soon as we got back to San Jose that we see if the painting was still available.  We raced back to the store and it was still available.  I’ll never forget what he said to me “I wouldn’t want it in my living room, but you should buy it.  You’ve talked constantly about that painting for the past 10 days.”  It now hangs in OUR living room over our sofa and I’m grateful I made the splurge and bought the painting which now also serves as a reminder of how I met my husband.

travel memories guatemala
This large (80cm+) carving reminds me of travel memories from Guatemala every time I walk through my front door.

Travel Memories From Guatemala

This piece of wood is my second favorite piece of art that I’ve collected along my travels.  I was hesitant to buy it due to the price and its large size, which at over 80 cm (31″)was not exactly flying friendly, but bought it anyway since I loved the carvings and the originality of the piece.   

When I see this piece that hangs in my entryway, I’m reminded of the friendly shopkeeper in Antigua, who we got to know over a few days until we finally made the purchase.  She needed to get some packing tape and left her 4-year daughter with us and told us to teach her some English until she returned. 

I was in disbelief, who would leave their child with almost complete strangers?  What a wonderful place where you can actually trust strangers.  Every time I see the piece, which hangs in our entryway, I’m reminded of this friendly, trusting shopkeeper and singing English and Spanish songs with her daughter.

travel memories mexico
A hand-painted vase from Mexico which sits on a bookshelf in my living room.

Some Travel Memories Are Inexpensive

Among my favorite travel memories are also items that were not expensive. But filled with memories.  This hand painted vase was painted by the son of the host family I stayed within Cuernavaca, Mexico.  I think I paid him $8 US for it.  Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of my spirited and energetic host family who helped me learn Spanish and welcomed me into their home.

travel memories thailand
Handcrafted items from Thailand which also sit on my bookshelf.

Gifts Are Perfect To Keep Travel Memories Alive

Sometimes it’s a gift that keeps travel memories alive. The vase on the left was made especially for me by one of my Thai student’s grandma who said I was her “favorite teacher in the world”. I purchased the Thai picnic basket on the right for under $15. And brings back memories of picnics held on the riverbank of Lampang with my Thai colleagues and friends.

travel memories Galapagos
Diving photos from Costa Rica and the Galapagos surround our dining room table.
travel memories Costa Rica
Travel photos can be put on a variety of items including coasters.

And The Most Obvious Way: Photos

Perhaps the best way to keep travel memories alive is through photos. They are inexpensive and don’t involve hauling back any bulky souvenirs.  My house is filled with travel photos, but our diving photos from Cocos, Costa Rica and Galapagos are my favorites. I have even made their way onto coasters which I had made for less than $20. 

I get so much more enjoyment from displaying my travel photos. It’s better than having them in an album which I would rarely look at.  I realize that not everyone wants to hand their guest a coaster with a turtle on it, or wants a picture of a shark hanging over their dining room table or a 1.3 meter (50 “) painting of monkeys over their sofa.  But it makes me happy and keeps my travel memories alive. 

Besides that, they make for good conversation pieces and I really don’t want or need another t-shirt.  Now when I walk in the door after a vacation I feel like I’m still on vacation.  How do you keep travel memories alive?

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29 thoughts on “Keeping Travel Memories Alive”

  1. Initially I started collecting mementos from my travels, a chess set from Peru, books about architecture in Prague etc … but now as I’ve downsized the amount of possessions I own, I use my blog as my way to keep my travel memories alive. I also like to buy wine from another country and then bring it home to share with friends!

  2. @Cheryl – I agree a blog is a great way to keep and share travel memories. I’m also with you on a bottle of wine. It’s fun trying wine from different regions in the world.

    @Mette – I quit buying souvenirs a while ago and now just try and buy one nice piece or two, but I love photos too and so easy to bring back and get them printed when you’re home.

  3. Priceless! One of my most treasured souvenirs is a a little wood carved show from Holland. I bought it from the all year round Christmas shop near the Flower Market, in July 🙂

  4. I also have some paintings – a watercolor from Bermuda is my favorite – and some other mementos but I need to make more of an effort to pick up interesting things. I also have a plan to frame a bunch of my husband’s wonderful photos and hang them in our dining room. I’m heading out to look for frames today, as a matter of fact! The blog also helps with keeping memories alive. I love to go back and read about something I did a while back; it brings back all the memories!

  5. @Jan – Thanks for sharing. I love framing photos and paintings by local artists as well. You’re right about the blog keeping travel memories alive as well and it gives me a different perspective when traveling as well as I’m thinking about how I will write about it.

  6. I also print out and frame the best travel shots, we have some everywhere! Plus the odd souvenir, like a Mayan blanket (very warm!) and t-shirts.

  7. Great idea for a post! I also collect things to hang up around my house, usually colorful little paintings and such for my kitchen. I love looking at them! I looove your monkey painting! I totally thought it was a photograph. Going back to Costa Rica next month. So excited.

  8. As I’d just returned from two weeks in Germany, I would have memories strike me in the middle of the work day.

    For example, as I write this at my desk, it’s just past noon here in Chile, which is 5pm in Germany. Three weeks ago to the moment, I was sitting with friends on the meadow on the south bank of the river Main in Frankfurt, enjoying a fried-fish sandwich on the October 3 holiday (Unification Day). Two weeks ago, I was wandering through the Partenkirchen side of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, enjoying and photographing some of the Bavarian houses with mountains as the backdrop.

    Funny how that works. 🙂

  9. @Zhu – Travel photos really make a place feel like home, don’t they? Plus I hate anything cookie cutter, so they’re a great way to personalize your home. A Mayan blanket sounds very comfy.

    @Laura – Sounds lovely and like a great souvenir from Holland.

    @fotoeins – Ah yes, I love the travel memories at work, when you’re supposed to be concentrating on work :). I do that too! It sounds like you had a great time in Germany. I love Garmisch-Partenkirchen, such a beautiful area.

  10. @Abby – I love color, especially from Latin America, it’s so cheerful. I bought the monkey painting 3 years ago and love it even more than the day I bought it, it’s not every body’s taste, but glad you like it. Can’t wait to hear more about your Costa Rica adventures!

  11. Mostly I have my photo’s to remind me but I also seem to be very fond of scarves and have quite a collection now. They are usually cheap and don’t take up much room so it seems to be the souvenir I reach for the most. Love the Monkey painting!

  12. @Claire – I never thought of scarves, what a great idea! That’s the problem with finding a meaningful souvenir, something that doesn’t take up too much room in your luggage. Regarding the monkey painting, thanks. I’m surprised to see that other people like it as well.

  13. Photos and unique souvenirs. I don’t want cheap crap for the purpose of having stuff. We have a hang painted canvas of a place we visited in Croatia. We have beautiful porcelain plates from Budapest and Lisbon. And of course, plenty of photos!

  14. I love the art works you have collected, especially the hand crafted items from Thailand. My family use to collect art works from our travels too, we especially loved Indonesia because their wooden crafted items are so exquisite and with a lot of meaning ^^.

    I myself love buying stuff during my travels that I know I can use everyday , like tea cups, hand crafted containers, plates….etc. Great way to not only remember the trips, but also creates good conversations during dinner parties =)

  15. Have you been to Affenberg in Salem here on the Bodensee? I can’t remember if you’ve blogged about it or not… it’s on “your” side of the Bodensee anyway, and has lots of monkeys!!!!!! (All the same kind though I think… from some mountains in Morocco?)

  16. I love the coaster idea. But I keep the memory alive by printing lots of photos and framing them around my house. I also buy decor for the house: Tapestries, bowls, masks and other items.

  17. i used to collect art from where ever I went but I travel so frequently that I can’t fit it in my tiny little home so I now opt for my own “art” in the form of photographs…

  18. We have a few items around our home from places we have traveled, have framed one or two particularly nice photos from vacations, I try to put together a photo book for the family to look through together, and we also like to bring home a few bottles of wine from destinations that we can open later and relive that vacation feeling. But the best way to keep that vacation feeling alive? Start planning your next travel experience!

  19. You have some beautiful things. The first few years that spent travelling I did so without a camera – I was determined that my experience not be mediated by the desire to record.

    These days sometimes the desire to record, either in images or stories, is my whole reason for going somewhere! I also like to pick some things up when I think they’re special enough we have a beautiful hanging from Jerusalem, rock slat candle holders from the sahara, and so on…

    Antique prints are a favourite.

  20. I take a lot of photos, some of which get printed off and hung around the house, although I don’t have any in our current place as we learned we were moving almost as soon as we moved in. It’s pretty easy for me to flip through digital photos though. Now that I’ve got the blog that’ll be a way to remember the travels as well.

  21. @Jeremy – I agree about the cheap crap that you don’t know what to do with when you get home. Your painting sounds gorgeous.

    Annie – I like your idea of buying practical items, kills two birds with one stone. Great idea!

    @Gina – I have been to Affenberg, loved it! I took over 100 photos of the monkeys, but haven’t framed any of them – yet! 🙂

    @Christy – I’m not surprised that you have lots of photos. Your photos are stunning!

    @Ben – I like decor too, but I always have the hardest time figuring out what to do with the tapestries that I buy.

    @jenjenk – That’s the great thing about photos, they don’t take up much space 🙂

    @Shawna – I like the idea of bringing home wine and planning your next vacation. That’s the best idea of all!

    @Amanda – That’s the great thing about the blog, is that it makes you really go through the photos and find the good ones.

    @Robin – It sounds like you’ve got some interesting things as well. Writing has also changed how I travel and I never used to take photos either, now I take tons.

    • True. I will probably pick what I think are the best to feature on the blog and then have a Picasa or Flickr for albums where people can see the rest if they want to.

  22. My husband & I have a number of paintings we bought on wedding or anniversary trips and they are ever present reminders that often evoke conversation of those past trips! With photography I sometimes struggle to remember to take some photos with my mind’s eye so I am present during the special moments.
    Great stuff. Thanks for sharing.

  23. All my life I have kept the best experiences of my life posted on the walls. I got rid of the objects over the years for a variety of reasons but the photographs remain on the wall. Every morning I get up to fabulous memories. It is a good way to start the day. To me they are memories. To others they are pictures with stories to tell if anyone is interested. They are for me.

  24. We actually do something similar. We collect Christmas balls and ornaments from places we visit. When I put up our Christmas tree, we reminisce on our travels.

    We also try to collect only souvenirs we’ll use. We have a wonderful mosaic from Madaba hanging in our guest bedroom. And our dishes are all now Italian pottery from a nearby town.

    I love how these things are daily reminders of our wonderful travels.


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